Energy Transition are two words on everyone’s lips in the industry. A simple Google search reveals about 473,000,000 results for the phrase in 0.48 seconds. So where does one start to make sense of this vitally important process, which will underpin all our futures?
I had the privilege of leading the development of the East of England Energy Group (EEEGR), which began its life on April 1, 2001. I would like to think it was no “April Fool”. In setting out the mission for EEEGR, we settled on seven simple words: The “sustainable production and wise use of energy”.
On September 16, EEEGR will open its virtual SNS2020 conference, as a sign of the times, responding to the challenges of Covid-19. The conference is titled “Energy Transition”.
The opening paragraph of the Energy White Paper, “Our Energy Future – creating a low carbon economy” published in 2003, began with the words “Energy is vital to a modern economy”. I would go further and suggest that delivering a secure, sustainable, affordable, low carbon energy system is indeed fundamental to everything we do, not just the economy.
As observed by my colleague Johnathan Reynolds in his recent and eloquent review entitled Our Heritage 2040: East Anglia - leading the way for clean growth, “East Anglia is already a major generator of power, with over the half of the UK’s operational fleet of offshore wind farms powering more than 12% of UK homes; the Bacton gas terminal providing around 30% of the UK’s gas needs; and the Sizewell B power station providing power to around 8% of UK homes in 2018 alone.” In short, a balanced mix.
He chose to look forward 20 years and set out a strong and articulate vision. In my short review, I reflect back on the past 20 years and explore key elements and some seismic incidents along the journey which help to define the firm foundations and experience on which this future will be built. This saw a physical energy transition in Great Yarmouth, which received gas platforms installed in the 1970s to be decommissioned, alongside the latest turbines for offshore windfarms being prepared for installation at East Anglia ONE. And also included the deep recessionary pressures experienced due to the global impact of the 2008 crash and Covid-19 in 2020.
At a time of Energy Transition, the government is faced with unprecedented challenges to maintain the economic well-being for the country. I was reminded of an article which I wrote for the Eastern Daily Press, early in 2010, following on the heels of the financial crash in 2008, as EEEGR prepared for our annual Supply Chain Conference “A Sea of Opportunity”. Interestingly, this title was later adopted by OWIC, the Offshore Wind Industry Council for its Offshore Wind Sector Deal submission which gained approval on March 7, 2019.
In summary, and to support the economy, I observed that whilst we can immediately print money - in 2008 through Quantitative Easing, and in 2020 through furlough and various Covid-19 support mechanisms - we cannot create Quantitative Energy. Energy has a long planning timeline, leading into delivery through a skilled and hopefully local supply chain, during construction, and then onto a 25-30-year operational life, before decommissioning.
As we move forward, Planning Inspectors will have to consider challenges and objections tabled against these offshore wind projects in the future. It is my sincere hope that wisdom prevails and the strategic importance of the decisions they make - impacting both the economy and security of energy supply - in these troubled times are set in the appropriate context. We will all need to work together in harmony to energise the future.
An Energy Transition mindset will be required as we write the rules to deliver a secure, affordable, reliable lower carbon economy; providing the certainty required for a sustainable, innovative, and skilled supply chain, whilst increasing green electricity and green gas.
My view is that the energy industry is a conversion industry; Einstein’s first law stated that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it can only be transformed or transferred from one form to another. To cut cost and add value and embed sustainability for consumer and supply chain alike, we must both produce (the supply side) and use (the demand side) energy as efficiently as possible. Easy to write, difficult to deliver.
To answer my opening question, Energy Transition is generally defined as a long-term structural change in energy systems. The layout of the world’s energy systems have changed significantly over time. Until the 1950s, the economic mechanism behind energy systems was local rather than global. As development progressed, different national systems evolved to be more and more integrated, becoming the large, international systems seen today.
Moving forward and to underpin sustainability and security of supply, I can see strategically interconnected “local energy islands” balancing both generation and use, being driven by global innovation, knowledge, and finance.